A Butterfly's World,
A Strategy for Survival

A Butterfly's World is a delight in our wildlife gardens, and backyard habitats.

For the winged creatures, it means survival.

Butterflies are the adult flying stage of certain insects belonging to an order or group called 'Lepidoptera'. Moths also belong to this group. The word 'Lepidoptera' means 'Scaly Wings, in Greek.

This name perfectly suits the insects in this group because their wings are covered with thousands of tiny scales overlapping in rows. The scales, which are arranged in colorful designs unique to each species, are what gives the butterfly its beauty.

Like all other insects, butterflies have six legs and three main body parts: head, thorax (chest or mid section) and abdomen (tail end). They also have two antennae and an exoskeleton.

They must defend themselves against a host of enemies, including birds, spiders, praying mantis and other predators.

The markings and colors. The looks and wing design are all part of "Nature's" design for survival.

Can you imagine?

These colorful insects resemble and blend in with their natural surroundings.

The upper wing surfaces are boldly patterned.

They avoid predators by first flashing the often bright colors of the upper wing surfaces while in flight

Then when they land, often the cryptic lower surfaces are visible and in the Butterfly's world, they blend in with the flowers or tree bark.

A Butterfly's World often includes wings with uneven edges, suggesting the borders of a leaf or other natural material.

Many have special diets while in the larvae stage that cause them to have a nasty taste and sometimes a lethal dose of toxins to the would be predator.

In a butterfly's world, the apperance can mean everything. A Common buckeye (Junonia coenia) has spots on the wing tips that look like eyes.

Birds may see the eyes and avoid something with such large eyes, or attack the wings.

When birds take a chunk from a wing, it avoids the attacking the vital parts from being eaten.

In A Butterfly's world, appearance works in a similar way with swallowtails.

The "tail" of these winged marvels will trick birds into biting off the expendable portion.

You may have seen swallowtails with the tail portion missing and the wings ruffed up a bit.

Yet it lives to fly another day.

A Butterfly's Appearance may mimic the coloration of other species that distasteful to predators because of the host plants the larvae ingested.


viceroy butterfly

The orange and black Viceroy (Limentis archippus) looks much like the toxic milkweed feeding Monarch (Danaus plexippus).

The black and blue top sides of the Red-spotted purple ( Limenitis arthemis) and the female Diana fritillary (Speyeria diana) resemble the unpalatable Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor).

In a Butterfly's World, appearance is delightful to our eyes, but serve a purpose.

From the yellows and blacks of swallowtails.

The bright oranges and blues to the patterns and markings

In the butterfly's world, appearance of a butterfly shows a range of patterns and hues.

Colors may be due to pigment in the wing scales and/or the refraction of light.

Coloration helps a male pick out a mate, because they can recognize the species by color.

These beautiful insects that visit your gardens exhibit a wealth of different appearances, life habits and behaviors.

As mentioned above, all butterflies are insects, with six legs and a body divided into head, thorax and abdomen.

They have two antennae and a proboscis through which nectar and other nourishment are ingested.

A huge reason to plant flowers in groups or patches,

A Butterfly's World:

"Butterflies are near sighted."

These Mr. MaGoo's of the insect world seem to bumble and fumble their way through life, but manage to get to where they were going.

You can almost hear it "AH MaGoo, you've done it again"!

Their compound eyes are highly sensitive to color, including ultraviolet light that humans can't see.

Their eyes are monocular, they see colors, but can't distinguish shapes and distance.

Some butterflies have a 344 degree field of vision. The average human is 190 degrees.

This allows them to see danger without turning their heads.

Butterflies don't have a nose.

Chemical receptors on the antennae and the feet are used for detecting odors. they smell and taste food and pheromones (members of the opposite sex) with their antennae, feet and other parts of their body.

Ears, who needs them when you have wings to pick up vibrations and sound waves.

A Butterfly's Appearance differs from male and female. Sometimes the coloration or markings are small and in some of these insects the coloration is totally different.

They have the two sets of wings, a pair of fore-wings and a pair of hind wings.

Each wing has an upper (dorsal) and a lower (ventral) surface, lined with veins.

Giant swallowtail larvae

Caterpillars, too are adept at looking like something they aren't.

For example, the Giant swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio cresphontes) mimics unappealing bird droppings.

Yes, a butterfly's looks serves many purposes.

As a decoy or blending in with its surroundings.

In A Butterfly's World

Attracting a mate, to tasting and just down right beautiful for us to watch and admire.

Butterflies are truly remarkable insects and a welcome visitor to any garden.

One more tidbit for you.

Butterfly Wings Are Transparent.

Really they are!

How can that be, you ask yourself?

You know butterflies as perhaps the most colorful, vibrant insects around!

Back to the winged scales at the top of this page.

A butterfly's wings are covered by thousands of tiny scales, and these scales reflect light in different colors. But underneath all of those scales, a butterfly wing is actually formed by layers of chitin, the same protein that makes up an insect's exoskeleton.

These layers are so thin you can see right through them. As a butterfly ages, scales fall off the wings, leaving spots of transparency where the chitin layer is exposed.

When you are rubbing the powder of a butterfly's wings, you are actually rubbing of hundreds of tiny scales.

A Butterfly's World and More

Butterfly Friendly Yard

Butterfly Plants

Butterfly Garden Design Butterflies Mating

Profiles of Backyard Butterflies

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A butterfly's appearance is important.

Learn more on butterflies and "Gardening for Wildlife."

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